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I was 13 when I shared my first Bud Light with four other girls in my parents’ basement.
My parents were never heavy drinkers but liked to entertain and always had something in the fridge. I remember thinking how rebellious we were as we all passed it around taking sips of it, trying not to gag at how horrible it tasted.
I was 17 when I got drunk for the first time at a friend’s house. Her parents were out of town and a couple of guys brought over a bottle of Barton. We mixed it with whatever we could find to hide the taste. I remember that euphoric feeling, laying on her living room floor giggling. Ever since then it was a constant struggle of finding someone who was 21 to buy us alcohol.
I was 21 when a few of my friends came out with me for my “power hour,” which was drinking as much as you could at midnight (back when the bars closed at 1 a.m. here). I wore a Santa hat because it was Christmas Eve and watched the excitement in people’s faces as they asked, “Your birthday’s on Christmas?!” I remember waking up the next morning on the floor, with a headache, nauseous, and glancing at a text from my friend asking how I felt. I responded saying, “I’m f*cked up,” and she laughed. We had to go to my grandma’s house for Christmas and I slept the whole way there. When we arrived, I stayed in the car for another hour or so before heading inside for my walk of shame.
Eight months later, I moved to Chicago, where I didn’t know a soul, and one of my friends at the time said, “Might as well start hanging out in bars!” so it became normal for me to go somewhere alone to have a drink or two to feel comfortable and hope to meet someone there.
I had a lot of social anxiety and alcohol eased it. It made it easier for me to open up to people, to be “extroverted,” and what I thought was more of “being myself.” It helped me wind down from the stress of working full-time and going to school full-time. It was like a friend who was always there for me and I would look forward to when I could drink next. After I graduated from college, this triggered a downward spiral for me. I started drinking a six-pack or a bottle of wine every day after work (for years!). It became my new normal and I was only sober at work. Everyone I knew drank. When I’d go out with friends or coworkers, I prided myself on being the only girl who could “handle her liquor” and still act fine. I could be the drunkest person in the room and you wouldn’t know it.
There were many signs along the way that it was becoming a problem—calling off work, drinking at work, alcohol poisoning, driving home after drinking, lashing out, and starting fights with strangers or loved ones, and just the overall feeling that I couldn’t deal with problems, stress, or uncomfortable situations without it. And it got to the point where I rarely saw my friends anymore and began isolating myself in my own misery.
The only options I saw were to move back home or go to rehab, and at the time my pride was way too big to ask for help so I moved back home.
When I did, I started on my spiritual path (about four years ago). I formed a whole new relationship with my body; I started eating better, doing yoga, going to the gym, and being mindful of what I was putting on my body, and in it. And even though I was drinking less than I ever had before, I was still drinking.
When I decided to do my first yoga teacher training, it was strongly encouraged to avoid alcohol, marijuana, meat, sex, or any other substances during the duration of the training. It was the first time I’d been sober for an entire month in my whole 10 years of drinking. It was the first time I woke up to an awareness of the effect alcohol had on my body and my mind.
I came home after that month and didn’t drink for a few months, but found myself slipping back into it, telling myself, “I’ll only drink on the weekends,” or “I’ll only drink wine.” But my hangovers became worse (along with age), and I lacked the motivation to do anything the next day. I simply stopped showing up to things as much and didn’t understand why daily activities felt so much harder to do.
So, I started on a journey of weeding it out of my life. I started avoiding bars and events where alcohol was present because I could literally feel the heavy energy of the room and a voice in my head that would ask, “What are you doing here?” I was more aware of how attached to it I was and how much I wanted to hold on to it. It was the last thing I could do to relieve stress, to check out, and not think about anything (even though that never worked), and it was the one thing I was terrified of letting go of for fear of losing friends and my last escape from the struggles of life itself. But I began to feel like a hypocrite. Here I was teaching all of these things about being kind to yourself, loving your body, loving yourself, being present and mindful, and I wasn’t fully doing the work myself.
After many drunken nights alone on my couch (or in my bathtub), stopping, starting, and stopping again, I mustered up enough strength to quit completely. I stopped buying it, avoiding the aisle in the grocery store, and people, places, and events where alcohol may be present. I joined an addiction group (Refuge Recovery) and committed to showing up every week even if I didn’t want to or if I didn’t have anything to say. I was so nervous about this because I not only had to admit to myself I had a problem (something I went back and forth on many times), but I’d have to talk about it.
I hadn’t really fully shared my relationship with alcohol. I told friends things here and there, but I almost never told the whole truth. I was really good at lying about it and hiding it.
When I stopped drinking six months ago today (5-28-2019), all the pain I felt was still there. I really had to rewire my thoughts. I’m not going to say this was an easy task (nor one that is finished), because it isn’t. It’s hard as f*ck. There have been years and years of summer nights grilling out and drinking with friends, of closing down bars, holiday gatherings with family, birthdays, playing drinking games, doing spontaneous things, and not to mention the change of seasonal beers (summer ales are coming out soon!). There have been smells and tastes I crave, and certain habits and rituals I developed over time.
I didn’t realize how much of my life (and the world) revolved around alcohol.
With the support from friends, family, my addiction group, and the power of meditation, I learned some profound insight into my relationship with alcohol and in turn my relationship to myself.
I learned what my triggers were (which seemed to feel like everything at first) and how much I made them out to be bigger than they were.
When I wanted to drink, I learned how to give myself space to ask why. I had to watch the way my mind tried to make justifications—i.e. stress, a bad day, everything going wrong, or my favorite, “but everyone else is drinking.” I learned how to change my relationship to how I am reacting to things out of my control in my external world.
I learned how much clearer my thinking became and how much more confident I was in speaking.
I learned how to watch my anxiety rise and tap into other tools and quickly realized how much worse I made it by drinking.
I learned how much less tired I became. I stopped waking up as much, getting hot, or tossing and turning.
I learned how much money I saved and could put toward other things.
I learned how my relationships changed (try meeting new people without going to a bar!)—how some people stopped inviting me to things because they didn’t know what else we would do together, and how others still did despite it.
I learned how much I wasn’t present for my life, and how much I didn’t show up for. I made excuses for “not feeling well” or telling myself “I can’t do this today.”
I learned it was so much harder to sit with my thoughts, insecurities, and pain than it ever was to reach for the bottle.
And because I couldn’t drink, I watched how other addictions I had in the past (that weren’t as strong) tried to creep their way in.
Over time, it just got easier. I think about it less. I don’t create a scenario in my head or an anxiety about being around it. I have to remind myself in every thought, every action, and every day why I stopped—to love myself more fully and to hold myself to a higher standard of being and moving throughout life.
And when I fail to do so I have to ask myself—who’s in control?